At the beginning of every football season, Division I programs prepare for conference play by beating up on smaller schools. The larger schools have the chance to smooth out the wrinkles in their game, while the smaller schools receive a huge payday to get romped on.
Since 2005, when the Penguins played against the University of Pittsburgh, they have started their season on the road against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. In that particular game, Pitt beat Youngstown State University, 41-0, but paid $250,000 to do so.
This tradition may not remain, however.
Although the Penguins are scheduled to open their 2013 football season against Michigan State University, the Big Ten Conference has made an agreement to end play against schools like YSU.
According to ESPN, the deadline for such play has not yet been announced, as some schools still have a Football Championship Subdivision opponent on the books. However, some estimate that it will likely be a few years, probably around 2016, until the conference schedules only Division I opponents.
After that, YSU will still be able to play teams from smaller FBS conferences, like Pitt, but the days of big payouts — such as $650,000 for playing against Ohio State University and $600,000 for playing against Michigan State — are over.
Barry Alvarez, athletic director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, voiced his disgust on the scheduling of FCS opponents on a Wisconsin-based radio station.
“It’s not very appealing, so we’ve made an agreement that our future games will all be Division I schools. It will not be FCS schools,” he said.
Alvarez said such games produce such low TV ratings that they’re not worth the hassle and are just a waste of time.
Nate Cox, a junior defensive end at YSU, said losing Big Ten opponents is “a big hit to schools like YSU.”
“Not only does [play against Big Ten opponents] make teams better, but those games provide the school a chance to bring money to the program,” he said. “I don’t know who will play us, but I do know that whoever we schedule, we will be ready.”
Historically, FCS programs have performed poorly against FBS programs, especially when the former faced teams who were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
Only three times has a school ranked in the AP poll lost to an FCS opponent. The first time was in 1983, when the University of Cincinnati defeated No. 20 Penn State University. In 2007, Appalachian State University defeated No. 5 Michigan State, and in 2010, James Madison University defeated No. 13 Virginia Tech.
After the Big Ten ruling takes effect, YSU’s scheduling options will significantly decrease. Judging by past paydays, Pitt will be the best bet for an opponent. In the Penguins’ three meetings with the Pitt Panthers, YSU has received $250,000, $340,000 and $400,000 in 2005, 2009 and 2012, respectively.
YSU’s meeting with Pitt in 2012 turned out to be even bigger than just a payday, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers, 31-17.
Jeremy Edwards, a senior safety, said he thinks Big Ten teams don’t want the risk of playing YSU. “They saw what happened when we played Pitt. They don’t want to chance losing to YSU,” he said.
The money YSU receives in these games goes directly toward scholarships. As a result, YSU has started to recruit better players through better scholarship offers.
Steve Zaborsky, redshirt freshman defensive end, said he isn’t worried about a drop in the program’s talent solely because of this change.
“Don’t forget, the athletic department gets paid when the [San Francisco] ‘49ers come and stay for a week and [use] our facilities,” he said.